Tibet's exiled spiritual leader plans travel to Mongolia

Dharamsala, India - The Dalai Lama plans to visit Mongolia next week, officials with his government in exile said Thursday, but they declined to provide travel details fearing trouble from China's communist regime.

His Aug. 21-28 visit is being organized by Mongolia's largest monastery, Gandantegcheling, said Thekchen Choeling, a spokesperson for the Dalai Lama, in an e-mail.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's last visit to Mongolia in 2002 sparked angry protests in China.

At the time, the Dalai Lama took a flight via Tokyo as both Russia and South Korea refused to grant him a transit visa, apparently under pressure from the Chinese.

There are no direct flights between New Delhi, India's capital, and Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital.

His office in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, the home of the government in exile, confirmed he was traveling to Mongolia, but refused to provide any further details.

Some 90 percent of Mongolia's 2.4 million people consider themselves Buddhists, and its largest monastery, Gandantegchillen, was an important seat of Buddhist learning until Mongolia was founded as a Communist country in 1924.

Mongolian communist rule did not recognize any religions, and banned their practice during Stalin's tenure in Moscow.

Mongolia's traditional Buddhist heritage began a gradual comeback after communism gave way to multiparty elections and a more liberal constitution in 1990.

Mongolia and Tibet have centuries of religious and cultural links.

A 16th-century Mongolian king is thought to have bestowed the first Dalai Lama title - a designation which means "Ocean of Wisdom.''

In 1904, the 13th Dalai Lama took refuge in Mongolia, a landlocked nation sandwiched between China and Russia, when the British invaded Lhasa, Tibet's capital.

The current Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese communist troops who occupied the Himalayan territory in 1951.

He formed an exile government in the northern Indian city of Dharmsala.